LACONIA — The Gunstock Area Commission achieved unanimity on two projects intended to advance the county-owned recreation area’s record of success, despite a contentious lead-in to the decisions.
Amid continued rancor among its membership and heated exchanges between the commission and Gunstock Mountain Resort’s management team, the GAC on June 22 awarded a contract for the engineering and construction management of parking lot improvements to DuBois & King, an engineering firm based in Randolph, Vermont. The firm was the only bidder on the project.
The commission also came together in support of an updated proposal for the building known as the Stockade. Upon the recommendation of President and General Manager Tom Day and Chief Financial Officer Cathy White, commissioners agreed to ask for new architectural drawings that would create space for both take-out food service and pub-style dining.
Dr. David Strang, the commissioner who has been working with Gunstock Facilities Operations Director Patrick McGonagle on the parking lot upgrade, sought to extend the deadline for bids, saying two of the seven companies originally contacted had not bid because of misconceptions about the request for proposals. He also did not like awarding a contract when there was only one bidder.
According to Strang, one of the firms that would have bid on the project declined because it believed it had no chance against DuBois & King because one of their employees had once served as a Gunstock commissioner. Another company would have bid if it had known that the request was for a “design-and-build” contract, not just for the design, Strang said.
McGonagle corrected him that the RFP asked for design and construction management services, saying that the actual construction work would go out to bid once the design specifications had been completed.
Commissioner Gary Kiedaisch addressed the concerns about the “optics” of hiring a firm whose employee had served as a commissioner several years ago. The employee would derive no direct benefit from the contract, Kiedaisch said, and DuBois & King is a reputable company that, in his opinion, is the most qualified engineering firm in the state.
He added that there was “never any favoritism” when Gunstock had hired DuBois & King for work in the past.
In asking for an extension of the bidding period, Strang explained that, while he had hoped to have the parking lot completed in time for next winter’s ski season, he had learned that acquiring the necessary state permits would likely not occur in time. If the project is not to take place until next year, there is time to rebid the work, he said.
The longer timeframe also means that Gunstock will have to consider the impact of inflation, Strang said.
Kiedaisch pointed out that Gunstock has been discussing the upgrade to the parking lot for three years and originally expected to have to pay half the cost. American Rescue Plan Act money is now available to cover up to $1.3 million, but he said if the cost exceeded that, the resort has enough money in its account to cover any overage.
DuBois & King’s bid for the engineering work was $75,058 with another $4,562 for the bid phase and $63,659 for construction management.
Gunstock’s budgeted amount for the work is $75,000 for engineering and $35,000 for construction management, McGonagle said, adding that they might be able to achieve some savings as the process moves along.
Both McGonagle and Day pushed back at the idea of seeking additional bids now that DuBois & King’s bid has been made public.
Kiedaisch made a motion to accept the single bid they had received and Commission Chair Peter Ness seconded the motion. When Commissioner Jade Wood asked whether they could extend the work to include terracing to promote ease-of-access between the base lodge and the Stockade and other areas, Kiedaisch said they should be able to leverage the bid to incorporate that work.
After the commission approved the motion, 5-0, Commissioner Doug Lambert commented that, while the discussion had been heated at times, it proved to be helpful in reaching a consensus.
Another topic that had been hotly debated was the renovation of the Stockade. Last year, the commission as it existed at that time had approved a $400,000 expenditure to purchase kitchen equipment to accommodate sit-down dining, and plans had been drawn up to reconfigure the building. The new commissioners this year raised objections to the plan, saying that most skiers prefer storing their equipment there while grabbing a quick lunch, and they suggested doing a survey of skiers to find out what they wanted.
At the June 22 meeting, Day and White presented the findings of that survey, which showed 50% of respondents favoring grab-and-go food service, while 40% preferred sit-down dining. As a result, they suggested revising the plan to take down a wall and move it back to create a large area for quick snacks and a smaller area with a bar to offer pub-style dining.
The resort offers free equipment storage in the main lodge, they noted.
After reviewing the original drawings and having the managers explain how the space could be reconfigured, the commissioners unanimously agreed to ask the architect to revise the drawings. Ness said the existing budget has a $2,500 cushion that should cover that work.
New drawings are expected to be available by the July meeting.
In other business, Day provided an update on the repair and extension of the Cannonball water line, the oldest existing water line at the resort. He said they expect the work to be done in mid-July.